The World Health Organization chief made his stance on reproductive rights clear on Wednesday, tweeting “Access to safe abortion saves lives.”
WHO leader Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus didn’t mention the leaked draft opinion that made waves across the world on Monday and Tuesday, which indicated that the Supreme Court of the United States is poised to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion in America in 1973. But his remarks were certainly timely, considering the discourse that has swirled in the wake of the unprecedented SCOTUS leak.
“Women should always have the right to choose when it comes to their bodies and their health,” he wrote, sharing access to an official WHO tweet posted the same day that echoed the message that “safe abortion protects women’s and girl’s health and human rights.”
The WHO public service announcement advised that governments should: make sure that every woman who is legally eligible has access to timely and safe abortion care; facilitate the provision of high-quality contraceptive information and services; and meet all women’s sexual and reproductive health needs.
According to WHO data, almost half of all 121 million pregnancies across the globe each year are unintended. Six in 10 unintended pregnancies and three out of 10 of all pregnancies end in induced abortion, which is safe when carried out using a method recommended by WHO — and appropriate to the pregnancy duration, and performed by someone with the necessary skills.
But when women with unwanted pregnancies face barriers to obtaining a safe abortion, they often resort to an unsafe one. Some 25 million unsafe abortions are done around the world each year, and 39,000 women and girls die as a result, while millions more are hospitalized due to complications.
“Restricting access to #abortion does not reduce the number of procedures,” the WHO chief wrote. “It drives women and girls towards unsafe ones.”
The leaked Roe v. Wade draft opinion had many in the U.S. speculating about what would happen next if the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion was overturned. Several states including Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming have laws that would “trigger” a ban on abortion if the ruling was overturned.
And research has shown that low-income women would be the most affected by abortion bans, as they would be least able to travel to seek access to an abortion. Roughly half of women who have abortions live below the federal poverty level, with 75% of them classified as low income, up from 27% in 2000.
A majority of Americans say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and most think that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned.